‘Erró’ is the artworld pseudonym of Icelandic painter Guðmundur Guðmundsson (you can maybe see why he’d want one). While fellows complacently paint icy mountains and calm lake waters, Erró explodes out of his canvasses with comic book superheroes, Disney characters, Geishas and Hitler. In effect, this is what would happen if Roy Lichtenstein and Thomas Nast had a love child.
Although Erró has been a celebrated painter since the 1960s, the majority of his works currently exhibited at the Mayor, a stylish and roomy gallery in West London, are from 1982 onwards. The dates printed on the small cards next to each painting sometimes come as a surprise – a lot of the politically-themed artworks are somewhat overdue reactions to the rise of 20th century political movements, from communism to fascism.
It takes a while for each painting to register. Erró’s style is a variation on postmodern pop-art: a clutter of neon characters, speech bubbles, strong outlines and false perspective. After the sensory shock wears off, the painting becomes odd: here, a half-naked comic book babe lounges in front of a background of cartooney Russian railroad workers. In this is Erró’s strength; he combines the uncombineable, marries the unmarriable to make a biting, obvious comment on the sad, pathetic state of the political world.
It’s easy to see where the ideas take root. Erró traveled almost all of Western Europe in the 1950s, from Germany to Spain; too late to be soured by WWII, but just in time to witness the pathetic back-and-forth of the Cold War. He finally settled in Paris, where Figuration Narrative painters like Bernard Rancillac were leading a political art rebellion. Hence images like Disney’s Pinocchio, coupled with a baby pulling at a grenade mobile (aptly titled The Terrorist’s Son).
Erró’s images are captivating, vivid and smugly gauche. At the modest price of about £2,750 you can enjoy your very own phantom Hitler or Night Rider beaming down from the dining room walls in reminder of just how absurdly dumb the 20th century really was. Unfortunately, that’s the deepest it goes. Erró does not pretend to be a rebel or a revolutionary. The message his art conveys does not extend beyond the obvious (Nazis are bad. Communists are bad. Disney sold out), but it’s sure fun to look at.
His later work reflects a shift not so much in style, but in mentality. Gone are the Russian comrades and angry cartoon Muslims; the majority of 2007 and 2008 works are pure cartoon babes and baddies. Here’s where it all becomes more abstract, less obvious and weirder. On the plus side, Guðmundsson begins exploring a greater diversity of mediums and styles – his recent work is more diverse and head-tilting, true to his own words: ‘La peinture est le laboratoire du possible’. Definitely worth popping down the Mayor for.
Erró’s works will be exhibited until December 19
The Mayor Gallery
22A Cork Street
Open 10am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and 10am-1pm on Saturday